Whose Game Is It, Anyway?

In 2000 a father in Reading, Massachusetts beat another father to death, after an argument over rough play at their 9-year-old sons’ hockey practice.

That could never happen in Westport — after all, we don’t have a hockey rink — but it forms the centerpiece of Dr. Richard Ginsburg’s work.

A sports psychologist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, he’s spent his career studying youth sports — the good, the bad and the very, very ugly.

This Thursday, October 20 (7 p.m., Bedford Middle School), he’ll lead a “community conversation” and Q-and-A about youth sports.  It’s called “Whose Game Is It, Anyway?

The answer, Ginsburg says, is clear:  the kids’.

Dr. Richard Ginsburg

But — in Westport and communities like ours across the nation — parents are intimately involved in youth sports.  They want to do the right thing for their children — even if they don’t always know how.

Ginsburg is not some beer-swilling couch potato jock wannabe.

A soccer and lacrosse player, and diver, at the Gilman School in Baltimore who later played sports at Kenyon College, he says that sports “formed a big part of my identity.”

He coached at Williston Northampton, then got involved in the psychological aspect of athletics.  His dissertation explored the therapeutic benefits of coach/player relationships.

After the fatal Massachusetts hockey fight, he co-wrote a book to help parents navigate their children’s sports experiences.

Ginsburg is a nationally known speaker on youth sports issues.  He knows the challenges of communities like Westport, because he sees similar situations across the country.

“Sports is such an integral part of a child’s life,” he says.  “There are so many benefits.”

But there are plenty of risks too:  overuse injuries.  Burnout.  Stress.  Over-scheduling.  Exhausted parents.  Debates about specialization.

“I started organized soccer when I was 9,” Ginsburg — who graduated from college in 1989 — says.  “In this day and age, that’s seen as too late.”

Ginsburg has “a lot of problems with that.”  But, he acknowledges, “it’s where our culture is going.”

In towns like Westport, families struggle with these and other issues.  Parents wonder:  How can I help my child succeed in sports?  Do we put all our eggs in one basket?  Am I helping or hurting my kid’s development?

“So few children become Division I athletes,” Ginsburg says.  “But so many parents think their kid has that chance.”

In his talk Ginsburg will try to dispel certain myths, around subjects like healthy development and college acceptance.

“I’m not trying to make parents into scapegoats,” he says.  “There are lots of cultural factors at work.  I just want to strike a balance between being a youth sports parent, and letting kids develop on their own.”

Ginsburg adds:  “There is no clear answer about what’s best.  Every kid and every family is different.”

He will, however, provide tips on how parents can speak to children about youth sports; how parents can help youngsters perform well, and what to think about as they get oldder.

“It’s a complicated culture,” he says.  “There’s a lot of different messages out there.  And they move fast.”

(Parents, coaches and all adults involved in youth sports are invited to the free presentation.  Registration is requested; click here.  For more information, email ssmith@westporty.org or call 203-226-8981.)

8 responses to “Whose Game Is It, Anyway?

  1. And to add to the list of books on this subject…check out the novel Parents Behaving Badly,by Scott Gummer.

  2. The Dude Abides

    Good thoughts and nice article. I am not sure many parents are aware of such expectations. My godson in Clifton Park was deemed a soccer protege at the age of six. Quit the game in high school “because of the coach.” Truth is that he just was not that good and had to find an excuse not to discredit himself and/or his parent’s hopes. Would be interested in the turnout here.

  3. Ah, the parental quandry. You want to give your kids opportunities to succeed, but it’s so hard to stand back and let them simply enjoy the experience. As far as I can tell, the kids appreciate what we provide for them, but don’t really need us to be on the sidelines – they will have fun anyway. I won’t comment on my own parenting (ask my kids), but I will say that I really enjoyed coaching a soocer team that didn’t have my own child on it. Kids are great!

    • A kid will succeed without expectations. The sadness comes really when they can not live up to such high hopes of their parents.

  4. Thanks, Dan, for helping spread the word about this speaking engagement and public discussion. A listing of the co-sponsors of the talk at 7 pm on Thursday at Bedford Middle School may help answer the Dude’s query about the turnout: the Westport PTA Council, Westport Weston Family Y, Fairfield Country Day School, the Water Rats Parents’ Club, the Krakoff family, Weston Youth Services, Westport Little League Baseball, Westport Police Athletic League, and the Westport Public Library. That’s a lot of email lists!

  5. Gwen D. Lechnar

    Ginsburg is quoted as saying “There’s a lot of different messages out there”, but you know it seems to me there’s really just the one great big one: $$$$$$$! It’s sickening, the amount of of money and the concomitant pressures, leeches, &c. generated by sports these days.Of course it’s much worse for inner-city children, for whom winning the sports lottery or entering the armed services often are the only “ways out”, but it is ubiquitous.Too old for soccer at 9! Really, Dan?

    • That was Ginsburg’s quote about “too old for soccer at 9” — not mine. I’m as worried about early specialization as anyone.

  6. Gwen D. Lechnar

    Just to be clear, Dan, I knew that, that you were quoting Ginsburg I mean. I was asking for your take, and now I have it, thanks.